The Review: THE STONED IMMACULATE by Curren$y

PRE-REVIEW: Hella late so sorry about that.

Curren$y is one of those rappers who, despite the lack of variety in his subject matter, manages to stay consistent album after album. And it isn’t just his great ear for production. He packs a lazy flow and autographical lyrics that keep him interesting. And the relaxing, airy music combined make for a hazed experience that’s almost as alluring as the stuff he smokes. But until now, Curren$y is starting to garner fame and even influence. So-called “weed rappers” like Wiz Khalifa and Smoke DZA owe something to Curren$y. Speaks volumes about a man whose name is only starting to get bigger as of now, though he has released great mixtapes and albums like This Ain’t No Mixtape and Pilot Talk. And to think he was once signed to Master P and then Lil Wayne and that neither of them saw the potential before.

The Stoned Immaculate sounds very much like another Curren$y album. Nothing groundbreaking or at least interestingly new. Curren$y treads the same path, offering little variation from what he has already said before. The sound doesn’t change much apart from a few hints. Curren$y’s top collaborators, Alchemist and Ski Beatz, are notably absent from this effort. The repetition has shown a couple kinks here and there on the album. For example, the words “chasing” and “paper” are too often found together. And some of the wordplay seems contrived (“No square shall enter in the circle of winners”).

But the repetition is the key to Curren$y’s success. When one reflects, any other topic would seem uncharacteristic for Curren$y to rap about. He himself declares, “Money and smoke is all I know”. Thus it only seems right that Curren$y should tread the same path, while still being able to let the listener sit back and vibe, similar to how Cam’ron interests his listeners by delivering witty punchlines rather than deviating from the same content. Even when Curren$y raps the regular braggadocio, he does it with such detail and pop culture affinity:

I’m adding dollars, you admiring/
I’m Words With Friends whole time in-flight wireless/
Email full of condo prices/
Marble or granite, kitchen islands/
Home stylings/

Can’t violate the Jet code without penalty/
Even family get let go “Fredo, you killing me”/
I work hard, bloggers thinking that it’s 10 of me/
Dropping record after record like them bitches slippery/
I like nice shit and I know how to get it/
Hustle dumbass, it’s not rocket science or quantum physics/

Maybe one of the most notable flaws of the album is the guest list. For a Curren$y album, it is difficult to imagine that anyone other than his posse and Wiz Khalifa could fit well on a Curren$y album. Case in point: Wale. The moment Wale starts the album off, the album starts sounding like Ambition Part 2 rather than a Curren$y album. Daz Dillinger’s husky, hardcore “Royce da 5’9″-like” voice sounds jarring on what is otherwise a perfectly Curren$y-type of song (“Fast Cars, Faster Women”). Surprisingly, however, the guests who sing some of the hooks, fit quite well. Pharrell sounds like the best he has been for a long (excuse me: LONG) time. And Estelle, who one would rather put on a pop-rap Kanye West-song, surprisingly adds more depth to “That’s the Thing” without making the song too overtly mainstream.

And maybe that’s the biggest gift for the listeners of this album. No major crossover attempts. No gimmicky sing-song hooks. From start to finish, it is purely a Curren$y album whose only interruptions are some of the guests and a few misconceived lines. The fans get what they want and nothing else. And that results in a satisfactory effort.

Rating: 8.25/10

The Review: R.A.P. MUSIC by Killer Mike

PRE-REVIEW:

FINALLY.

REVIEW:

For years, Killer Mike has remained one of the South’s unsung voices. Ever since his show-stealing verse on OutKast’s “The Whole World”, he has consistently garnered critical acclaim and underground respect, piling up great albums one after another. He has a voice as powerful and booming as Scarface’s, a street sensibility and thuggishness that parallels Bun B, and content that fits him well with OutKast. Yet, he is virtually ignored and is relegated to the title, “Rapper’s Favorite Rapper”, more to imply that he is not much of a big deal.

From the start of R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike sounds determined to shed that title and remind everyone that he deserves to be ranked among the best in hip hop. On opening track, “Big Beast”, he makes it clear that his music is “hardcore G sh*t” (“I don’t make dance music, I make R.A.P./ Opposite of that sucka sh*t you see on TV”). Not only that, but he easily bests his guests, Bun B and T.I., both of whom gave some of the best bars in recent memory. On the next track, “Untitled”, Killer Mike is proud enough to say that he is a “John Gotti painting pictures like Dali” and a “Basquiat with the passion of ‘Pac”. The album switches to more concept-driven tracks, starting with “JoJo’s Chillin'”, a tale about a miraculous getaway and then into more political territory, probably Killer Mike’s strongest area as an MC.

“Reagan” is an excellent showcase of Killer Mike’s simple yet well-engineered lyricism, showing how the similes can interconnect to weave a bigger picture:

We brag on having bread, but none of us are bakers/
We all talk having greens, but none of us own acres/
If none of us on acres, and none of us grow wheat/
Then who will feed our people when our people need to eat/
So it seems our people starve from lack of understanding/
Cause all we seem to give them is some balling and some dancing/
And some talking about our car and imaginary mansions/

Behind the boards of R.A.P. Music is Killer Mike’s partner-in-crime, El-P, whose Bomb Squad-inspired productions are presented in extra nuance, while still maintaining the characteristic weirdness. El-P dabbles with electro, alternative rock, and funk to create a crisp, organic, and cohesive sound that, along with Killer Mike’s Southern grit, makes for a enthralling and unique experience.

But R.A.P. Music is beyond a mere social studies lesson about hip hop, as its content and cover might suggest. Killer Mike shows personality even in the political preaching and braggadocio. And he ups the ante in his dedication to his late grandfather, “Willie Burke Sherwood”, which shows his vulnerable yet truly inspirational side. All these elements combine to make a record that is daring and authentic. Some critics like to compare this album to Ice Cube’s classic collaboration with Bomb Squad, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. But really, that comparison is for conveniences’ sake since Killer Mike and El-P have been compared to Cube and Bomb Squad, respectively. R.A.P. Music is a work that deserves to stand on its own, for now and the years to come.

Rating: 9/10

Old School Review: THE EMINEM SHOW by Eminem

PRE-REVIEW:

Sorry, still need to finish listening to Killer Mike’s latest album so here’s a bonus review. Time hasn’t been on my side lately but I promise you that the review for Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music will come later today and the review for Curren$y’s The Stoned Immaculate will come tomorrow. Thank you all for being patient.

REVIEW:

The opening track, “White America”, opens the album by reflecting on his success: he has sold more than any black rapper out there, partly because he is white, ironically the same quality that prevented him from having much success earlier. He also relishes in this opportunity to represent the oppressed white Americans who have identified with him and helped him achieve success: “Just look at me like I’m your closest pal/ The poster child/ The motherf**kin’ spokesman now!” He is able to sound mature and immature all within the same line. He has realized that he is a voice for many but doesn’t mind in taking advantage and rallying people up to do insanely offensive acts. At the end, he gives the usual “I’m just kidding. You know I love you” just as a half-convincing apology.

That was Eminem’s main weapon: the ability to be part-joking and part-serious while still relaying a clear message to the listener. His intentions had always been debated. Parents and the government had seen him as a malicious influence on young children while most listeners understood when he was joking and when he wasn’t. The Eminem Show finally settled the distinction between the two sides of Eminem, while also showing Eminem in a more conscious state of mind. It is also his last great album before his music went on an internal tug-of-war between Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers.

He treads similar material in a similar manner while exploring it more in-depth this time around. Compared to “Kill You”, “Cleaning Out My Closet” sounds like a more honest account of his rage against his mother, and maybe even a more threatening one too:

And Hailie’s gettin so big now; you should see her, she’s beautiful/
But you’ll never see her – she won’t even be at your funeral/
See what hurts me the most is you won’t admit you was wrong/
B*tch do your song – keep tellin yourself that you was a mom!/
But how dare you try to take what you didn’t help me to get/
You selfish b*tch; I hope you f*ckin burn in hell for this sh*t/

In “Sing for the Moment”, he chastises parents for not understanding their kids and criticizing rappers because the kids relate to their music. In “Square Dance”, he takes a firm and hilarious assault against the Bush Administration and the Iraq War. And “Drips” is an explicit encounter of a sexual relationship gone wrong. But the man is even able to change his style up without sacrificing character and content, being able to deliver a blistering blitzkrieg in “Soldier” and later croon an amateurish ode to his daughter in “Hailie’s Song”.

But even as the man knows he is pushing 30 and that fame is getting to his nerves, he relishes and enjoys the moment whenever he can. “Business” and “Without Me” are clear statements that hip hop is lesser without him while “Say What U Say” and “Till I Collapse” are vehement rallies against detractors. He doesn’t seem too worried when his daughter finds him sniffing cocaine before he goes on a Slim Shady-esque rage in “My Dad’s Gone Crazy”.

Sad as the truth can be, The Eminem Show was the last great Eminem album before Eminem went on to recycle his formula and reinvent himself for the pop atmosphere of today. Here and there are flashes of his old brilliance but The Eminem Show still stands as the perfect collision of Marshall Mathers and Slim Shady, sacrificing neither honesty nor humor. While it may not be as gripping and inventive as his magnum opus, The Marshall Mathers LP, it is a more honest depiction of his double-sided persona and ultimately another testament to his greatness.

Rating: 10/10

*Note: The one track that kept the album from receiving an 11/10 was “When the Music Stops” simply because I have heard way better D12 collaborations. Still, this album is a top 100 for me.

The (Mixtape) Review: SEX, DRUGS, AND VIDEO GAMES by David Banner

PRE-REVIEW:

This is the second review in the back-to-back-to-back review bonanza. The first was Big KRIT’s joint, Live from the Underground. See the previous post for the review and information about some changes and why I haven’t reviewed for a while. The last of the back-to-back-to-back reviews is the Killer Mike and El-P collaboration, R.A.P. Music.

REVIEW:

David Banner seems to have had enough. It’s come to a point where even artists like him are struggling to survive in an ever-changing industry that they once dominated just a mere few years ago. So what’s his response? The 2M1 movement, where you get to download his new album for “free” provided you pay at least one dollar. This is to help artists realize that their content doesn’t have to be controlled by industry standards. Quite a message from a man known for songs like “Like A Pimp” and “9MM”. But in the end, the effort is half-convincing.

Banner knows that his name isn’t much of a big deal these days, which explains the multitude of guest appearances on his album from Big KRIT to ASAP Rocky and Snoop Dogg to Chris Brown. That’s the first contradiction: why does David Banner need big names in his music to prove that urban music is still profitable? Isn’t an industry standard to have big names on your record to garner attention? Another contradiction surfaces when Banner’s album starts to sound overly mainstream for all its underground ambitions. But the biggest contradiction about the mixtape is that it tends to preach what it doesn’t practice. For example: the skit “Mothers and Sisters” features a voice that questions David Banner on whether he would accept if his mother or sister was called a “b*tch” by someone else. Yet on the subsequent track, Banner and Brown sing about having a night with their “sex slaves”.

The real ironic moment comes in the “Swag” remix, when Kardinal Offishall spits:

Most of the rappers I know they’re intelligent/
But they would never bless you with a lesson/
They would rather feed you to b*tches, drugs and guns/
Like f**king clowns/
They ain’t concerned with your block cause they in the ‘burbs now/

Those aren’t directed just at Lil Wayne, who is interestingly another guest on the mixtape. Banner himself has much to identify with these bars, as he has several songs that feature such content. It’s almost as if Kardinal wrote those bars with Banner in mind.

Apart from all the discrepancies, Sex, Drugs, and Video Games is still a somewhat entertaining if inconsistent effort. The multitude of rappers makes David Banner look more like DJ Khaled than an actual rapper. Most times, his guests sound more on point than him, like Don Trip and his excellent verses on “Do Work” (“I’m just tryin’ to stay as fly as a king/ You know dope boys don’t get retirement plans”). Even Chris Brown, for all the atrocities he has brought upon the ears of mankind, hands in a half-decent verse that almost bests David Banner’s more generic verse on the “Yao Ming” remix. Of course, Banner’s real talents are production and hooks. And while it isn’t as remarkable as it has been before, it suffices for the most part.

But Banner keeps coming back with the enlightenment talk with no actual evidence that he is following his own gospels. The impression comes off as confused: what is David Banner’s point? Is he conscious or is he trap? Is it preachy or is it personal? Ultimately these thoughts keep David Banner from being taken seriously as an artist and reformer. The concept he is trying to change is the very same concept he is musically indulged in. And as an entertainer, he has made only a decent record and not one that is all that memorable.

Rating: 5.25/10

The Review: LIVE FROM THE UNDERGROUND by Big KRIT

PRE-REVIEW:

First off, sorry for the lack of new blog posts. In all honesty, there wasn’t much to talk about. I could talk about the Pusha T vs. YMCMB beef but it’s quite pointless. Pusha T is wasting time trying to get a reaction from Drake and Wayne is wasting lives trying to prove he knows what beef is. I could talk about 50’s new mixtape, but I’m gonna wait for his album. But now I see that hip hop is starting to get a good groove on for me to make some reviews. I have heard a lot of noteworthy joints in the past few days. So, expect to see back-to-back-to-back reviews of Big KRIT’s Live From The Underground, David Banner’s Sex, Drugs, and Video Games, and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music.

REVIEW:

The South rules hip hop. That’s a known fact no matter how many people try to dismiss it. Despite the fact that the lack of creativity  and commercialization in hip hop could be blamed on the South, the region has kept hip hop relevant. In fact, rappers from other regions these days take a few notes from the Southern rappers to achieve success in the mainstream. The South rules hip hop. But who rules the South?

T.I.? He hasn’t made an impact for years now. Ludacris? He isn’t as dope as he used to be. Jeezy? He doesn’t have hot singles. Weezy? Plausible but inconsistent. In answer to the question, it isn’t really a who but a what: trap  music definitely rules the South and virtually all of hip hop. One new guess has been a clean cut backpack rapper from Mississippi named Big KRIT who dreams of making it big. Odd choice considering he has no criminal background or even the trap music style of the popular Southern rappers out there. Plus, he isn’t a lyrically superb dude. But there has been an undeniable persistence that he has maintained that has turned naysayers into believers. And he has some really dope production and seems to be capable of making a full-length cohesive album, as shown with his breakout mixtapes, KRIT Wuz Here and Returnof4eva.

Live from the Underground sounds like a proper sequel to Returnof4eva, unlike the uneven 4evaNaDay mixtape. The influence of Aquemini looms large especially in the opening two tracks. But further into the album, hints of UGK and Goodie Mob become prominent, showing the versatility of KRIT’s sound. The first half of the album is more reminiscent of the typical Southern material. Unfortunately it is inconsistent with some highlights (“Money on the Floor”, “Live from the Underground”), some “almost-there” (“Cool 2 Be Southern”, “I Got This”), and a couple flat out misses (“What U Mean”. “My Sub (Pt 2: The Jackin’)”). “What U Mean” in particular is a disappointment because even though it is designed to be a filler track, it isn’t even one worth listening to more than a couple times. Ludacris, in particular, never sounded so out-of-touch as he was on that track.

The second half is the beacon of hope that keeps interest alive as it is here where the album really shines. It might also be the more poppish side of the album but KRIT manages to keep within his Southern roots and not pander to overt mainstream material, case in point the Melanie Fiona-featuring “If I Fall”. “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” details KRIT’s recount of his father’s advice about coming up (“Thank God for the condoms that my papa gave me/ Cause a convo about the birds and the bees wouldn’t save me”). “Praying Man” is a part jazz, part psychedelic collection of stories about finding hope when left behind. And the ending reprise of the title track summarizes the whole metaphor being presented in the album: how people feel “chained” by expectations and need to find a way out (Underground Railroad).

But the album would sound even more amazing if its lead artist had more lyrical punch because KRIT tends to have very generic bars. Though he does sound sincere, it isn’t enough to carry the album or his career to greater heights. What’s worse is that his guest features (save for Ludacris) stand out better than him. “Porchlight” ends up sounding like an Anthony Hamilton track and on “Hydroplaning”, Devin the Dude kills his verse enough to make it look like he made the song first. So when considering this aspect, it is impossible to think that KRIT could be the new King of the South.

But even T.I. wasn’t considered much when I’m Serious was released.

Rating: 7.75/10